A study from the University of Illinois, led by Florin Dolcos, examines how religion and psychology use similar strategies to cope with difficult situations and emotions. This study was published in the Journal of Religion and Health on January 7, 2021.
People often view religion and science as independent ways of looking at the world. However, this study shows that it is not always the case, and the two can coexist.
The study involved 205 participants between the ages of 18 and 39. They filled out the following questionnaires: Brief COPE, Emotional Regulation Questionnaire, Coping Self-Efficacy, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Beck Depression Inventory, to assess a variety of mental health symptoms and coping strategies.
Dolcos and colleagues also had 57 of the participants answer questions about how religious or spiritual they were. An example of one of the questions from the study included, “Please rate, on a scale from 1 to 10, how religious/spiritual you consider yourself.”
“We asked them about their coping styles. So, for religious coping, we asked if they try to find comfort in their religious or spiritual beliefs,” said Kelly Hohl, coresearcher. “We asked them how often they reappraise negative situations to find a more positive way of framing them or whether they suppress their emotions.”
The researchers found that religious coping correlated with reappraisal, or looking at a situation from a different perspective. This may look different in psychology and religion but serves the same purpose.
“For example, when somebody dies, a religious person may say, ‘OK, now they are with God,’ while someone who isn’t religious may say, ‘Well, at least they are not suffering anymore,'” says Dolcos.
People who use religious methods to cope are also more confident in their general ability to cope. This is known as coping efficacy. They also experience less symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“It appears that religious people are making use of some of the same tools that psychologists have systematically identified as effective in increasing well-being and protecting against distress,” says Dolcos. “This suggests that science and religion are on the same page when it comes to coping with hardship.”
Dolcos and his team also found that reappraisal and coping efficacy mediated the relationship between religious coping strategies, and decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety. When a variable mediates a relationship, it is the reason that relationship exists, or it contributes significantly to the strength of the relationship.
These results can be useful for both psychotherapists and church leaders. Psychotherapists can use these strategies to connect with religious clients. Hohl notes that the study “should also speak to clergy members or church leaders who can promote this kind of reappraisal to help parishioners make sense of the world and increase their resilience against stress.”
“I hope this is an example of where religion and science can work together to maintain and increase well-being,” Dolcos says.